Treasures From The Sea

JHHGH1-1050587Ever since John took up photography, our hikes have turned into strolls interspersed with numerous long hiatuses while he records our surroundings for posterity. This initially caused a certain amount of friction, until I developed my own obsession—sea glass.

Now John often has to wait for me, while I zigzag slowly along the shore, looking for that elusive glint of colour in the sand. The funny thing is that some beaches are fantastic for glass while others produce only plastic, or rocks, or wood. And I have yet to figure out which beach will harbour an incredible treasure trove and which will disappoint. So I can’t ever assume and just walk on by.

JHH5-14269For me, finding a piece of glass or a shard of pottery is a connection to the past as I try and imagine where it came from and how long it has been washed by the waves. It provides me with a memento of where we’ve been that doesn’t take up a lot of room (we live on a boat after all!) and that doesn’t cost anything, except my time and attention.

JHH5_105394Though I am all for recycling, I’m also sad that sea glass will become more and more rare as we stop throwing our garbage into the sea. I guess I’ll just have to come up with another obsession when that happens—I’m thinking I’ll try my hand at drawing, in which case I’ll be moving even slower!

Several books have helped me learn more about the wonderful world of sea glass:

Do you collect anything on your travels? Please leave a comment.

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Meet the Author

Phyllis

Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

11 comments … add one
  • Jan Jan 11, 2012, 11:12 pm

    🙂 I can recommend fossilized sharks teeth when you can’t find beach glass!

    • Phyllis Jan 12, 2012, 2:29 pm

      Hey, Jan; Thanks for giving me something else to look for! I actually found a piece of ambergris on Block Island this fall—something I’ve been looking for for several years. So now I have a new goal—a fossilized shark tooth. Any hints on what to look for and where to look?

      • Catherine Jan 12, 2012, 9:54 pm

        Phyllis,
        When we were at Cumberland Island, Georgia about a month ago we found several (25) fossilized shark teeth as well as turtle shell and beaver tooth fossils. Look for black shiny objects when looking for fossils. It took us a while to get the hang of it, but we had a paleontologist to help us (she was visiting the island). We also found loads of sea glass – mostly from the era of when the Carnegie’s lived on the island. Also, lots of pottery there. It’s a wonderful place to visit, very unspoiled and not many visitors. You can only get there by boat (private or ferry). If you go, it’s the beach on the inside south of the ferry dock, you have to walk it at low tide.

      • Jan Jan 12, 2012, 11:20 pm

        Ambergris … what a great find! Now I have something to add to my list to find! I didn’t realize when we were in Ambergris Caye, Belize how it got it’s name. Thx.

        So far the only place we’ve found shark’s teeth is the west coast of Florida – Venice Beach, but also the barrier islands of Cayo Costa and Gasparilla. My husband is addicted. Hopefully we’ll find some in the Caribbean … and further south. The ones we find are small, shiny black and shaped like teeth — google fossil shark teeth images to see — they’re generally the size of my little fingernail. Sure makes me iffy about swimming off the barrier islands with the iced tea colored water! But it’s time to go cruising, so it’s all good.

  • Nick Kats Jan 12, 2012, 2:31 pm

    Hi Phyllis

    A sperm whale washed up on the beach below my house. I took half of its teeth, about 20, all over 6″ long.

    After a spring storm I went down to the same beach. There was a large coconut, the husk perfect. As I’m on the west coast of Ireland it is safe to assume that, with the prevailing Atlantic winds & currents, this came from the Carribean. 10 feet from the coconut was a 2′ long stick with the gnaw marks of the beaver. There are no beavers in Ireland – again it was reasonable to assume that this came from E Canada or New England. It was neat to find 2 things from the Carribean & Canada on the same day. I keep the coconut & stick on the window sill, as a great conversation piece, & as a reminder of worldly mysteries.

    You never know!

    Nick

    • Phyllis Jan 12, 2012, 2:39 pm

      Hi, Nick; Great finds! You obviously live in a great place for beachcombing. When we were in the Bahamas a few years ago I found a few dark brown almost black round and heart-shaped items on the beach, about 2″ across. I had no idea what they were until a friend who grew up in the Bahamas told me they are seed pods from Africa. So then, this Christmas, when we were in Bermuda and walking the beach there, I found another one! The sea and its treasures are endlessly fascinating!

      • Nick Kats Jan 12, 2012, 3:05 pm

        Phyllis
        My family has found 3 of those seeds in 50 years here. An Irish botanist, Praeger, in his autobiography The Way That I Went, said that these came from the Carribean.
        Tell me about the ambergris! I’ve been looking for years..
        Nick

  • Jan Jan 12, 2012, 11:08 pm

    We found dozens of the dark heart shaped seeds while we were in the San Blas Islands Panama — but I didn’t recognize they were from Africa until this discussion!

    Also by the dozens mixed among the rejected flip flops are dark round shaped seeds that resemble a hamburger or a cheeseburger. We never found out what they were for sure. We strung them on tiny line for necklaces for a Popeye themed regatta — “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”.

    What a treasure the sea reveals to those that take the time to look! Cheers! Jan

    • Colin Jan 13, 2012, 1:25 pm

      Hi Jan (& Nick and Phyllis)

      The larger beans are called sea hearts, and (I think) come from the convolvulus family, so are not true beans. In Victorian times in the UK they were often split and scooped out to make lockets with a picture of loved one or a lock of their hair within.

      The ‘hamburger’ seeds are called horse eye beans (Macuna spp.) for obvious reasons, and like the sea hearts come from central and S America.

      The real treasure (and rarity) is called the Mary’s bean, as it has a cross embedded in it. These were highly prized in southwest England and Ireland, and were passed down from mother to daughter, to be clasped during childbirth to protect the expecting mother. My daughter has one that my wife found on an Atlantic beach in North Cornwall, England, where we found many sea hearts and horse eye beans – but only the one Mary’s bean – they’re a highly unusual find.

      Happy hunting!

      Colin

  • Phyllis Jan 13, 2012, 10:44 am

    Thanks to all for the great comments. I’m really looking forward to the search for fossilized shark’s teeth! As to ambergris, I don’t know what initially got me started on the search but I looked up images on the internet, which made me realize how difficult it would be to pick out among the other stuff on a beach, but somehow when I saw the small greyish lump on the beach at Block Island, I instinctively knew! And, when I broke off a small piece, I definitely knew! Hard to believe they made perfume out of it! (Actually, I think they made perfume out of the more seasoned pieces, which would be a darker colour than my whitish grey piece.) Anyway, good luck with the search, which is, after all, the best part!

  • Paul Mills Jan 15, 2012, 12:33 am

    Hi Phyllis,

    My son Ben and I share the collecting a momento habit. Ben collects sea glass and has alovely collection in his jar – especially prizing blue pieces. For myself I look for rare and individual things. From the Sahara I have flint arrow heads, and the inverted carved wooden ‘Y’ piece from a long ago discarded camel cargo saddle. From the Pyrenees a horn from a local sheep that I found attached to a decayed carcase on a remote mountain ledge, these things are great to take you back to special places and special times…..

    Paul

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